Archive for March, 2014

No Time Like the Present

Based on the advice of Fabrice Brunel, David Bloch enjoys his last bottle of 2003 Les Cailloux, Cuvee Centenaire, Chateauneuf du Pape.

Last week I was invited to importer Bobby Kacher’s home to eat and drink with a few producers. I had a lengthy conversation with Fabrice Brunel who has been gradually taking up the reigns at Domaine Les Cailloux. I have been drinking the Domaine’s Chateauneuf-du-Pape – Les Cailloux – for almost twenty years. This is a very reliable, go-to producer whose wines never disappoint – gushing with all of the Provence typicity that makes wines from this part of France so special.

The Brunels also bottle a limited production wine known as Centenaire. The Grenache, about 80-85% of the cuvee, is from vines over 100 years of age. The wine is produced only in the so-called “great years.” I have had the pleasure of drinking the 1998 , 2000 and 2001. I also bought a few bottles of the 2003 – a year that produced some controversial wines in the south of France owing to the torrid heat. I consumed all but one over the last few years and mentioned to Fabrice, while drinking a remarkably dense, youthful and complex 2007 Centenaire, that I had a bottle left of the 2003. He suggested I drink up.


I opened the wine about four hours before drinking – not decanted. The color was striking – almost a deep garnet. The wine was incredibly pure and clean. Really, really clean. As with most of the great wines from this vintage, I’ve never found signs of raisinated, stewed or pruney fruit. This is a big wine. The nose was complex – spices, pepper and kirsch. This Centenaire seems to have more of everything from the other vintages I have consumed. Waves of fruits – particularly black currants and raspberries. Then some cherries. The fruit was sweet. Fruit that keeps coming at you. The wine is very rich. Very powerful. Very long on the finish. My wife, who adores CdP, thought this wine was way over the top and clearly did not like it. It is a stylistic choice though – delicacy and gracefulness is not what Centenaire is about. The bottle I had before this one during the winter of 2012 seemed more powerful. The wine is certainly not a long term keeper. I suspect the wine has peaked – the tannins were almost nowhere to be found. Having said that, with proper storage there is no imminent danger of the wine cracking up.

La Paulée circa 1905

Chateau du Clos de Vougeot. [1]

Inspired by enticing pictures of great bottles of Burgundy from the recent La Paulée de San Francisco this post features a few historic La Paulée images from over 100 years ago.  These pictures come from the article “Les Grands Vins Blancs de Bourgogne” published in Revue de Viticulture in January 1906.  At the beginning of the 20th century grapes in Burgundy were harvested then carried in large wicker baskets.

Le transport du raisins. [1]

At the end of harvest the last cart of grapes was decorated with a wreath of wildflowers.  The works all sang the traditional songs of La Paulée in celebration of the end of harvest.  The proprietor naturally provided a few bottles of good wine in celebration.

La dorniêre charrette de raisins rentre à la cuverie avec un énorme bouquet ; elle est sui ie des vendangeurs qui chantent la “Paulée” traditionnelle clôturant la vendange. [1]

Here is one such song:

Allons en vendange
Pour gagner huit sous
Coucher sur la paille
Ramasser des poux
Manger du fromage
Qui pue comme la rage
Boire du vin doux
Qui fait aller partout

[1] Revue de viticulture, Volume 25. 1906.  URL:

Three Enjoyable French Red Wines

Just a quick post to remind everyone that I do drink current vintages.  The 2012 Chateau Pesquie, Terrasses, Ventoux is a great buy at $14.  I believe it could use a little time in the cellar for it was much more expressive on the second night.  From the aromas to the flavors and texture this beautiful wine might be even better next year.  The 2012 Ermitage du Pic Saint Loup, Cuvee Sainte Agnes, Pic Saint Loup is a rather young and dry wine which reflects its chalky and limestone origins.  It reveals elegant flavors that are a bit different than normal.  The 2010 Alain Jaume & Fils, Roquedon, Lirac is a more flavorful wine which you should enjoy knocking back down for many years to come.  I should note it was not until the fourth bottle that I managed to take down a note.  These wines are available at MacArthur Beverages.


2012 Chateau Pesquie, Terrasses, Ventoux – $14
Imported by Eric Solomon/European Cellars.  This wine is a blend of 70% Grenache and 30% Syrah which was aged in concrete, stainless steel, and some oak.  Alcohol 14%.  The good nose had both lifted aromas and those of black fruit.  In the mouth were slowly building flavors that took on controlled ripeness and a hint of glycerine through the finish.  There was plenty of acidity from the start which was noticeable on the tongue tip.  There were ripe, very rounded and approachable tannins mixing with plenty of acidity.  It left a clean and fresh finish with blacker fruit flavors.  *** 2015-2020.


2012 Ermitage du Pic Saint Loup, Cuvee Sainte Agnes, Pic Saint Loup – $23
Imported by Kermit Lynch.  This wine is a blend of 40% Syrah, 40% Grenache, 10% Mourvedre, and 10% Carignan sourced from soils of chalky-clay, white clay, and hard limestone which was aged for 12-14 months in oak.  Alcohol 14%.  The nose was delicately scented with spice potpourri.  The mouth followed the nose but was much drier and quite dry by the finish where there were drying tannins and a little puckering aspect.  The flavors were of lighter red fruit, somewhat grapey, before the spicy finish. The grapey and citric fruit had a citric tannin structure.  On the second night there were some white pepper notes as well as flavors of stones.  There was, perhaps, a Big Red note, some saltiness and dry black fruit.  Needs some age.  *** 2017-2025.


2010 Alain Jaume & Fils, Roquedon, Lirac – $16
Imported by Kysela Pere et Fils.  This wine is a blend of 60% Grenache, 20% Syrah, 10% Mourvedre, and 10% Carignan which was aged in oak.  Alcohol 14.5%.  There was a slightly meaty nose of red and black berries.  In the mouth were dense black fruit with red hints, well-integrated acidity, and controlled ripeness.  There was a certain roundness to the wine with a minerally black finish.  The ripe tannins existed in an appropriate structure which dried the insides of the lips.  This is tasty now but could use a little age.  *** 2017-2025.


John Adams Drank Constantia Wine in Spain

March 14, 2014 2 comments
A New Map of Spain and Portugal. John Cary. 1801. David Rumsey Map Collection.

A New Map of Spain and Portugal. John Cary. 1801. David Rumsey Map Collection.

In December 1779, John Adams set off through Spain.  By his accounts, his dinner with Monsieur De Tournell on Sunday, December 19, 1779, featured “the greatest Profusion and Variety of Wines I ever saw brought to any table.”[1]  He continues, ” In Addition to the Wines of France, Bourdeaux, Champaigne, Burgundy, We had Constantin and all the best Wines of Spain red and white. The names and qualities of all of them were given Us, but I remember only the Sherry, Alicanté and Navarre.”  From a second portion of his diary the wines were described as, “We had every Luxury, but the Wines were Bourdeaux, Champagne, Burgundy, Sherry, Alicante, Navarre, and Vin de Cap. The most delicious in the World.”[2]  In the previous, more detailed diary entry, he notes ,”The Spanish and Irish Gentlemen” complemented the Consul “on the Excellence of his Wines which they pronounced the oldest and best they had ever seen.”  The Chief Justice and Attorney General were pleased by the, “rich and rare Selection of Spanish Wines”.

Detail showing John Adams on left. Declaration of Independance. John Trumbull. 1817. Image from Wikipedia.

Detail showing John Adams on left. Declaration of Independance. John Trumbull. 1817. Image from Wikipedia.

In the two entries by John Adams he appears to equate “Constantin” with “Vin de Cap” and potentially qualifying it with “The most delicious in the World.”  It is possible that John Adams drank Constantia wine.  In reviewing John Adams’ actual diary entry I believe he wrote “Constantia” and not “Constantin”.  I am not an expert in his handwriting but there appears to be a little curlicue on the last letter indicative of the letter “a”.[3]  Despite transcription differences there are other period publications relating the wines of Constantia with Vin de Cap which reinforce that he drank Constantia wine.  In Carl Peter Thunberg’s Resa uti Europa, Africa, Asia, förrättad åren 1770-1779 he writes of the two farms Great and Little Constantia, “is celebrated for its highly delicious wine, known by the name of Constantia wine or Vin de Cap“.[4]  Two other publications relating these two descriptions include “Constantia, situee derriere la montagne de la Table, est le vin de Cap par excellence”.[5]  As well as a letter from J.H.F. Oldecop to Prince Alexandre Kourakin dated February 18, 1773, he writes of “du veritable vin de Cap, nomme Constantia”.[6]

[1] “[1779 December 19. Sunday.] ,” Founders Online, National Archives (, ver. 2014-02-12). Source: The Adams Papers, Diary and Autobiography of John Adams, vol. 4, Autobiography, Parts Two and Three, 1777–1780, ed. L. H. Butterfield. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1961, pp. 209–211.
[2]“1779 December 19. Sunday.,” Founders Online, National Archives (, ver. 2014-02-12). Source: The Adams Papers, Diary and Autobiography of John Adams, vol. 2, 1771–1781, ed. L. H. Butterfield. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1961, pp. 413–414.
[3] John Adams autobiography, part 3, “Peace,” 1779-1780, sheet 9 of 18, 19 – 24 December 1779.  URL:
[4] For the origin see Thunberg, Carl Peter. Resa uti Europa, Africa, Asia, förrättad åren 1770-1779. 1788. URL: and for the English translation please see Travels at the Cape of Good Hope, 1772-1775: Based on the English Edition. 1986. URL:
[5] Nouvel esprit des journaux français et étrangers. 1793. URL:
[6] Архив Кн. Ө.А. Куракина, Volumes 7-8. 1898. URL:

An Old-Wine Dinner at Urban Butcher in Silver Spring

When  I heard that Chef and Owner Raynold Mendizabal of Urban Butcher was willing to participate in the Bring Your Own Bottle of wine I knew there was no choice but to arrange for a wine dinner.  This may seem far from extraordinary but Urban Butcher is located in downtown Silver Spring in Montgomery County, Maryland.  BYOB is still relatively new in my county.  This restaurant is not far from my house and that of other friends.  The restaurant wine dinners I have attended have always taken place in Baltimore, Washington, DC, and Virginia.  The thought of drinking old wine at a local restaurant which butchers local heritage breeds was too much to resist.  Through email and in person Chef Raynold Mendizabal was excited for such a dinner.  Having seen the proposed list of wines the menu was left up to him.  Our dinner was to be facilitated by Sommelier Rachael Buehrer.  She recently sold her wine business and moved to Washington, DC, so she could be near her mentor for her Master of Wine studies.


Our dinner began with oysters to accompany the white wines.  From there we moved on to bacon made from a pig raised in Wheeling, West Virginia.  It was aged for quite some time then subtly smoked with three different kinds of wood.  This made way to excellent house-made charcuterie accompanied by grilled bread.  From the lardo to the pate there was a hit for everyone.  Our main course consisted of a leg of lamb that was raised in the Shenandoah Valley.  It was complemented by subtle flavors of pesto but it was the natural flavor and texture of the lamb which I found incredible.  We accompanied our lamb with broccoli rabe, brussels sprouts, and mashed potatoes.  The evening wrapped up with a selection of local cheeses in excellent condition.   Everything was served at a temperature which best highlighted the course and nothing stood in the way of the wine.  Jenn felt that Raynold’s enthusiasm showed through.


This was no ordinary grouping of wines for dinner, rather it was old Rioja tasting which explored many bottles dating back to 1950.  Following my discussions with Mannie Berk and my experience with his 1922 Marques de Riscal, Rioja Reserva I decided double-decant all of the old Rioja.  At the Old Wine Dinner hosted by Darryl and Nancy I finally saw how effective the Durand was.  I asked Darryl to bring his Durand which he handed over.  I prepared all of the bottles by cutting the foil tops and wiping the tops of the corks.  I pushed quite hard on the 1955 Bodegas Palacio, Glorioso, Reserva Especial which caused the cork to go down the neck.  I do have a cork extractor but I left that at home so we pushed the cork into the bottle and decanted the wine into a decanter with a spherical body.  Darryl said the Durand was easy to use so I took a go.  The extra wide screw went into smoothly and anchored the cork as the Ah-So portion was wedged in.  I then grabbed both portions and with a combination of turning and pulling, the first cork came out without issue.  The rest of the corks did as well.  If you have never used one then find a friend who has one and give it a go.  The 1955 Bodegas Bilbainas, Vendimia Especial threw the most sediment, amounting to gobs of it, closely followed by the 1964 La Rioja Alta, Gran Reserva 904.  The other four Rioja threw a small amount of fine sediment.

  • 1950 Satisfactory (DOC), Mediocre, 200-day cycle. Frosts in April and cold September, with poor ripening.  Very rainy June. (La Rioja Alta).
  • 1955 Excellent (DOC), Excellent, 195-day cycle.  Frosts in April. Well-distributed rainfall during cycle. (La Rioja Alta).
  • 1964 Excellent (DOC), Excellent, Excellent and plentiful. 210-day vegetative cycle, including a month of June which was relatively cold and one day of frost in April (La Rioja Alta).
  • 1970 Very Good (DOC), Very Good, 195-day vegetative cycle. Preceding winter cold and wet. Late budding. There were no spring frosts. Summer hot and wet. Some hail in June. Autumn mild with very late leaf-fall (La Rioja Alta).

To some degree the evening felt like vinous archaeology.  Finding old Rioja in the United States is possible but not common and this is perhaps reflected in the scattered tasting notes and minimal posts.  From Spain the Vinos Clasicos blog has many tasting notes and pictures of old Rioja.  Richard Jenning’s Fully Mature Reds at Reasonable Prices? Think Rioja appears to be the best recent American blog post.  This post is also relevant since three of the old Rioja came from the Rare Wine Co. specifically the 1950 Berbera, 1964 Gomez Cruzado, and the 1964 La Rioja Alta.  The 1955 Bilbainas, 1955 Palacio, and 1970 Riojana were recently imported by Flatiron Wines & Spirits.  My lack of experience with old Rioja is conveyed in my shorter tasting notes, I had to reflect more and did not necessary know how to convey the aromas and flavors, but this allowed me to simply be curious about what was in the glass.


We started with a trio of white wines.  The 1976 Bassermann-Jordon, Forster Jesuitengarten, Riesling Auslese was purchased several years ago from Schneider’s of Capitol Hill.  It proved to be a very solid, fully mature Riesling.  I see no reason to hold back.  Darryl had read some comment about Elio Altare’s 2009 Campogrande, Cinqueterre having some evocation of Riesling and perhaps it did for a few minutes.  This odd-ball wine made from Bosco and Albarola certainly worked well with the oysters.  The final white 2012 Willi Schaeffer, Graacher Himmelreich, Riesling Trocken, Grosse Gewachs was stellar on the nose and though young in the mouth, the lively and precise flavors were so easy to appreciate.

Advertisement from Anuario del comercio, de la industria, de la magistratura y de la administración. 1905, no. 2, page 1,461. Biblioteca Nacional de Espana.

Advertisement from Anuario del comercio, de la industria, de la magistratura y de la administración. 1905, no. 2, page 1,461. Biblioteca Nacional de Espana.

The bottles of old Rioja all reacted differently to air.  I must admit I was very surprised how the 1950 Bodegas Berberana, Gran Reserva continued to develop the entire evening.  I enjoyed it very much and everytime I revisited it, there was something more to show.  Unfortunately, the 1955 Bodegas Bilbainas, Vendimia Especial was drinking past its peak.  Despite that, it wasn’t going anywhere, it drank the same on the second night without the help of Private Preserve.  The 1955 Bodegas Palacio, Glorioso, Reserva Especial only took a short period to show itself off.  With an attractive maturity on the nose my palate was pleased by hints of ripeness to the blue fruit.  It was quite good before it started fade which was no deterrent for the bottle was finished.  The 1964 Gomez Cruzado, Honorable, Gran Reserva was decidedly alive and over two nights consistently showed a funky old-school flavor.  This perhaps made it polarizing in my view but still good for a glass.  The 1964 La Rioja Alta, Gran Reserva 904 surprised me as much as the 1950 Berberana but this time it was the complete change in nature from air.  At first I found it a simple, thin wine of red fruit but after one hour it opened up both on the nose and in the mouth to show what could be considered classic flavors of cedar, red fruit, and acidity.  Finally, I thought the 1970 Bodegas Riojanas, Vina Albina, Gran Reserva showed the youngest because it still had some chewy concentration which was easy to appreciate.  I particularly liked the salty note in the finish.

We had a bit of a segway with the 1986 Chateau Cos d’Estournel, Saint-Estephe.  The cork having crumbled upon removal this was decanted into a sparkling water bottle about three hours before we tasted it.  Lovely, classy flavors but it needs more cellar time.  The 1998 Artadi, Vina el Pison, Rioja had some deep aromas upon decanting which morphed into distinctive Big Red spice.  However, it remained unyielding in its firmness with no indication of what is to come.

We wrapped up the evening with a stellar pair of wines.  The 1967 Barros, Colheita, Port surprised me with its youth and vigor, it was almost thick in the mouth.  The 1940 H.M. Borges, Reserva Solera, Sweet, Madeira cork might have disintegrated upon removal but it blossomed in the decanter.  It was a lovely Madeira showing attractive texture, impeccable acidity, and as Darryl wrote, “just about the perfect balance between dry and sweet.”  There was clear attraction to this pair of wines for both were finished as people lingered.  I am still excited that we could source affordable bottles of old Rioja.  As Darryl wrote, ” I remain amazed that we had 6 bottles of old Rioja from 1950 thru 1970 and no duds, some better than others, but nothing corked, nothing cooked, all in good shape.”  I’ll be on the look out for other bottles of old Rioja and suggest you do too.


1976 Bassermann-Jordon, Forster Jesuitengarten, Riesling Auslese, Pfalz
Imported by Woodley Wine & Liquor.  Alcohol 10%.  The color was a medium tawny caramel.  The nose was a little grainy with apricot notes.  In the mouth the wine was very fresh to start, certainly drier but lively with good acidity.  It softened up with air to reveal a little residual sugar in the aftertaste.  Unbroached bottles will last but no need to wait any longer and make sure to finish the bottle in one go.  *** Now-2019.


2009 Campogrande, Cinqueterre
This wine is a blend of Bosco and Albarola sourced from vines planted in 2005.  Alcohol 12%. This had a delicate and odd nose, perhaps a little cheese at first before the aromas became hazier.  There were drier flavors of stones in the mouth with upfront flavors that tasted young.  For a few minutes I could see the association with Riesling.  ** Now-2019.


2012 Willi Schaeffer, Graacher Himmelreich, Riesling Trocken, Grosses Gewachs
A Terry Theise Selection imported by Michael Skurnik.  Alcohol 12%.  There was very ripe fruit on the nose, which remained fruit driven and gorgeous.  With air the nose calmed down a bit.  In the mouth the flavors were exceedingly lively on the tongue with precise texture, young flavors, and a drier finish.  This oscillated a bit eventually opening up again in the finish.  Lovely stuff.  ***(*) 2015-2030.


1950 Bodegas Berberana, Gran Reserva
Imported by the Rare Wine Co.  Alcohol 11.0-14.0%.  There was a fresh hint to the nose with some red fruit then vintage perfume.  It blew off a little cheesey whiff.  There were red fruits in the mouth, a minerally middle then some ripeness.  It had good acidity which was interwoven with vintage perfume and a sweet spice hint.  This nice wine continued to develop the entire evening until the very last drop.  **** Now-2024.


1955 Bodegas Bilbainas, Vendimia Especial
Imported by T Elenteny Imports.  This wine is a blend of 70% Tempranillo and 30% Garnacha.  Alcohol 11.0-14.0%.  The subtle nose cleaned up to reveal smokey bacon aromas.  The wine was more traditional with its red fruit but the flavors played it close.  There were still tannins mixed with the firm flavors delivered in an old-school style followed by an ethereal aftertaste.  With just a bit of air it showed watering acidity and a hint of ripeness in the aftertaste but this bottle was clearly beyond its peak drinking.  It was in that state all evening, drinkable but as a curiosity compared to the others.  ** Now.


1955 Bodegas Palacio, Glorioso, Reserva Especial
Imported by T Elenteny Imports.  Alcohol 11.0-14.0%.  This smelled like a wine at proper maturity.  There were still hints of ripeness in the mouth with attractive flavors that leaned towards blue fruits.  It responded well to air but after a few hours it became simpler and drier.  Prior to that it was quite satisfying.  ****  Now – 2019.


1964 Gomez Cruzado, Honorable, Gran Reserva
Imported by the Rare Wine Co.  Alcohol 11.0-14.0%.  This had a floral, woodsy nose.  There were mouthfilling flavors of dried fruits and old-school flavors on the tongue-tip.  It became drier towards the finish where it showed some funk and attractive grip.  It eventually took on some weight before the persistent aftertaste.  Will last but a bit polarizing in flavor.  *** Now-2019.


1964 La Rioja Alta, Gran Reserva 904
Imported by the Rare Wine Co.  Alcohol 11.0-14.0%.  The nose initially bore ample aromas of metal and minerals but this morphed into attractive cedar and earth.  There were red fruits in the mouth which were clean and matched by its pure acidity driven nature.  There was a puckering, citric acidity aspect.  There were cherry flavors, a drier texture, and tannins in the end.  It took an hour to open up but did so very well. Thanks to Darryl for the picture.  **** Now-2022.


1970 Bodegas Riojanas, Vina Albina, Gran Reserva
Imported by T Elenteny Imports.  Alcohol 11.0-14.0%.  The nose revealed a little wood followed by roast.  In the mouth were tangy flavors of red fruit that had citric notes.  The flavors were still concentrated and almost chewy.  There were wood box notes and an attractive salty quality at the end.  This old red had a persistent aftertaste.  Good wine.  **** Now-2024.


1986 Chateau Cos d’Estournel, Saint-Estephe
Imported by Ginday Imports LTD.  Alcohol 12.5%.  This young wine had lovely red cherry fruit which was gorgeously integrated with mature flavors in the middle.  This clearly needs more time as the citric tannins were surrounded by the flavor.  It was very persistent in the aftertaste.  ***(*) 2019-2029.


1998 Artadi, Vina el Pison, Rioja
This wine is 100% Tempranillo sourced from a parcel planted in 1945.  It was aged 18-24 months in French oak.  Alcohol 13.5%.  This remained tight with aromas of Big Red cinnamon spice.  In the mouth were citric red fruit flavors that became linear.  It remained very tight with hard red cherry flavors followed by a brighter, mildly puckering finish.  I could work out some ripe strawberry notes by extensively working the wine in my mouth.  **(*) 2019-2029+.


1967 Barros, Colheita, Port
Imported by Aidil Wines and Liquors. Alcohol 20%.  This was surprisingly powerful and youthful with nice residual sugar, almonds with air, and old wood.  It had some thickness to it.  **** Now-2039.


1940 H.M. Borges, Reserva Solera, Sweet, Madeira
Imported by the Rare Wine Co. Alcohol 19.5%.  The nose had the attractive sweaty tangy aromas I have come to love.  It was youthful with vibrant flavors on the sides of the tongue, good texture throughout, and a spicy aspect.  A lovely wine.  **** Now-2059.


The Alcohol Content of Blackburn, Brammin, and Wanderer Madeira as Well as Palmer and Margaux in 1835

In looking for early descriptions of the color, aroma, and taste of Madeira I came across a fascinating chart in the 1835 article Researches on Wines and other Fermented Liquors.[1]  It is not the specific alcoholic percentages that fascinates me rather the specific Madeiras which were sampled.  Anyone immersed in the history of Madeira will recognized the names “Blackburn”, “Brammin”, and “Wanderer”.  Some of you may even recollect the Rare Wine Co produced a Wanderer Madeira with Vinhos Barbeito.  You may read the technical pdf here.  New to me is sample #5, the 40 year old “Farquhar” Madeira.  It appears that James Farquhar was a merchant in New York City who was active from at least the 1786[2] and into 1805 when his son Charles W. Farquhar joined him in the business.[3]  The business then became known as James Farquhar & Son.  The advertisements fall silent after 1807.[4]

Table showing the proportion of alcohol percent, by measure, contained in several kinds of wine and other liquors.

In 1831 parcels of “old Farquhar Wines” appear on the market at G. E. Taylor.[5]  In addition he sold Madeira from Payne & Co., the Wanderer, Felles East India, Sercial, vintage 1818, and vintage 1824.  James Farquhar must have passed away by June 1832 for David M. Hubbard was selling “a selection from the old stock of the late James Farquhar, Esq….some of which are upwards of 30 years old.”[6]  The research article was published by Dr. Lewis C. Beck of the University of the City of New York so he may have very well obtained his samples from the merchants already mentioned.  In observing the various claims about intoxicating powers of various beverages and how they are consumed, Dr. Beck concludes “I am inclined to believe, that, after all, the difference is rather apparent, than real.”

[1] Beck, Lewis C. “Researches on Wines and other Fermented Liquors”, The American Journal of Science and Arts, Volume 28. 1835. URL:
[2] Date: Tuesday, July 25, 1786   Paper: New-York Morning Post (New York, NY)   Issue: 734   Page: 3
[3] Date: Wednesday, May 29, 1805   Paper: New-York Gazette (New York, NY)   Volume: XVIII   Issue: 6005   Page: 3
[4] Date: Saturday, April 25, 1807   Paper: Evening Post (New York, NY)   Issue: 1677   Page: 1
[5] Date: Tuesday, October 18, 1831   Paper: American (New York, NY)   Volume: XII   Issue: 3995   Page: 3
[6] Date: Wednesday, June 6, 1832   Paper: Commercial Advertiser (New York, NY)   Page: 1

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“sophisticated wines that add a new dimension to wine drinking” : The Rediscovery of Heitz Cellars Grignolino

March 11, 2014 1 comment

In the article Italian Wines, A Growing Traffic in the Choice Falernian published in 1874 it was noted that Barbera, Grignolino, Nebbiolo, sparkling Asti and Malvasia were the top brands from Piedmont which were imported into the United States.[1]  Grignolino itself was planted in California as late as the 1883-1885 timeframe.[2]  In the Northern Italian section of the Descriptive List of Grapes Received and Wines Made, with Analyses of Musts and Wines it was noted that the Italian-Swiss Agricultural Colony of Asti, Sonoma County had brought in many cuttings of Piedmontese varieties including Grignolino.  These were growing in their large vineyard which had been previously planted with Zinfandel.  Unfortunately no samples grapes or wines were described.

The Grizzly Bear Magazine. 1915. From Google Books.

By 1916 Californian versions of Grignolino were being produced and advertised by the Italian Vineyard Company.[3]  That same year one could dine at the Golden Lion Tavern and Grill at 4th and F St in San Diego and accompany your Roast Turkey with a “pint of San Severo white or Grignolino red Wine” for $0.75.[4]  Whether this was Californian or Italian Girgnolino was not specified.  With the repeal of Prohibition, Guasti Fruit Industries advertised that “connoisseurs today stipulate Guasti instead of ‘imported’.”[5]  Amongst Burgundy, Claret, Madeira, and Riesling selections were Grignolino.  Just after World War 2 the I.V.C. California Wines company advertised their Grignolino from “non-irrigated vineyards in Southern California”.[6]  The advertisement was headlined “Your new love…Grignolino” and was described as “Robust and ruby-red”.

Image from [].

Image from [6].

Heitz Cellar Grignolino was advertised in Seattle by June 1965 as a recommended wine for a Father’s Day dinner.[6]  It costs $3.10 per bottle as compared to La Tache, Burgundy at $17.50.  One could by Heitz Grignolino in Dallas, Texas in 1973 for $2.99 per bottle on sale.[7]  This was more expensive than their Chablis and Burgundy selections priced at $2.69 but less expensive than Johannisberg Riesling at $4.19.  The price was remarkably stable for in 1978 the Heitz Grignolino was still priced at $2.99 in Omaha, Nebraska. [8]

At the Los Angeles County Fair of 1977 Frank Prial noted there were 825 Californian wines entered “including everything from champagne and tawny port to grignolino and coconut wine.”[9]  Later that month Frank Prial described the “white-wine explosion” where “Hard-bitten martini drinkers by the score switch every day to white wine.” [10]  While the popularity of rosé wines were not growing as fast as white wines it exceeded the growth-rate of red wines.  He included the “iconoclastic Heitz Cellars” rosé made from Grignolino, concluding that “[t]hese new California wines are well-made, sophisticated wines that add a new dimension to wine drinking.”  By 1986 Frank Prial noted the switchover in preference from white wine to rosé wine.[11]  He attributed this to the Californian industry banking on red wine being the new favorite but it had been white wine and production was unable to meet demand.  With a surplus of red grapes the discarded efforts of “white” Zinfandel, “white” Cabernet Sauvignon, and others led to blush wines.  However, it was rosé wines which were more serious than blush and the good producers included Caymus, Geyser Peak, Montevina, David Bruce, Buehler, Mirassou, Robert Mondavi, Ridge Vineyards, Bonny Doon and of course Heitz Cellars with its Grignolino rosé.  As late as 1993, Dan Berger recommended Heitz Grignolino at $5.50 per bottle for Thanksgiving dinner.[12]

[1] Date: Friday, December 18, 1874   Paper: Commercial Advertiser (New York, NY)   Page: 2
[2] Report of Viticultural Report During the Seasons 1883-4 and 1884-5.  1886. ULR:
[3] The Grizzly Bear Magazine. 1916. URL:
[4] Date: Saturday, October 14, 1916   Paper: Evening Tribune (San Diego, CA)   Page: 6
[5] Date: Tuesday, August 21, 1934   Paper: Seattle Daily Times (Seattle, WA)   Page: 7
[6] Date: Tuesday, June 8, 1965   Paper: Seattle Daily Times (Seattle, WA)   Page: 11
[7] Date: Wednesday, June 27, 1973   Paper: Dallas Morning News (Dallas, TX)   Section: B   Page: 2
[8] Date: Wednesday, March 8, 1978   Paper: Omaha World Herald (Omaha, NE)   Page: 57
[9] Date: Sunday, September 11, 1977   Paper: Boston Herald (Boston, MA)   Page: 8
[10] Date: Thursday, September 22, 1977   Paper: San Diego Union (San Diego, CA)   Page: 59
[11] Date: Wednesday, June 11, 1986   Paper: Greensboro News and Record (Greensboro, NC)   Page: 54
[12] Date: Wednesday, November 24, 1993   Paper: Augusta Chronicle (Augusta, GA)   Section: B   Page: 3

Three 2003 Chateauneufs

Here is David Bloch’s description from last year of tasting 2003 Pierre Usseglio, Cuvee Mon Aieul, 2003 Marcoux, Vieilles Vignes, and 2003 Clos des Papes.

Chateauneuf du Pape Vineyard.  Image by moofbonb via flickr.  Licensed under Creative Commons.

Chateauneuf du Pape Vineyard. Image by moofbong via flickr. Licensed under Creative Commons.

Knowing I would not be going in to the office last Wednesday but instead would be working from home, Ariane and I decided to open three CdPs from the highly irregular 2003 vintage.  Here are my impressions – all wines decanted approx. 3 ½ hours before drinking:

Usseglio Mon Aieul:  Absolutely amazing nose.  Floral and spicy.  The wine is becoming more delicate – but in no way less powerful.  There is a certain “clarity” to the predominantly Grenache cuvee – almost a pristine clean of kirsch and flowers.  Really long finish of that kirsch again as well as some darker berry notes.  This wine will go for years to come.  Purchased on release from Wide World.

Marcoux V.V.:  IIRC, the most expensive bottle of CdP I ever purchased.   Worth every cent.   Having been in the Rhone this really does smell like the Rhone.  Intense and complex nose.   Really different than the Mon Aieul.  This is a meatier wine, showing less pure Grenache but more of everything else:  deep berry notes, some Bordeaux-like cassis, and a host of savory herbs and spices.   The wine has got some tannins to resolve and in a way I regret opening the only bottle I have, only because I think the wine will continue to progress.  Purchased on release from Calvert Woodley.

Clos des Papes:  posters & bloggers who write of this wine’s diminishing lifespan are just wrong.  This is a big wine, different than the Marcoux.  It seemed the most alcoholic of the three but not in a way that there is noticeable heat.  It had more of the kirsch notes that I am attracted to, but had a bit of dark side to it that leaned a bit toward the bitter.  Licorice maybe.  This is a peppery and herbal wine with plenty of tannins, still.  Midway through dinner the wine tightened up and almost closed down again, something I was not expecting.   Purchased on release from Bassin’s at the insistence of the Rhone-meister Emeritus.

A lot of wine and I suspect (and meant to check) some serious alcohol content.   I could not stay awake for the 10 p.m. news.

Order of Preference:  as listed above.  Wines rebottled from decanters overnight and air pumped out.  Kept in the cellar.

Snowmageddon (not!) Wednesday:  finishing where what we started.

Marcoux showed even better the second day.  Overnight was less kind to the Usseglio – I think the wine really impressed the night before and lost some of its kirschy sharpness.  The Clos des Papes was another story altogether.   It did not taste like the same wine.   The wine was far better on day two and the air served to really soften the wine and smooth out some the rough edges that continue.  My takeway is that the Clos des Papes can in fact live a lot longer than some cognoscenti would lead you to believe.   Day two order of preference: Marcoux, Clos des Papes, Mon Aieul.

If you own them, drink them.  They are all beautiful interpretations and expressions of the region and have, at least for my palate, reached a level of maturity that provides that extra Je ne sais quoi!

Classically-styled Haut-Brion with a long future ahead

Last year David Bloch sent out an email describing his experience tasting a trio of Chateauneuf du Pape: 2003 Pierre Usseglio, Cuvee Mon Aieul, 2003 Marcoux, Vieilles Vignes, and 2003 Clos des Papes.  His email chronicled the wines over two days.  He wrote in a very personal style that both conveyed his voice and his preferences.  Today’s post features his latest experience with and an image of 1995 Chateau Haut-Brion.


1995 Chateau Haut-Brion, Graves –
(3/4/14):  A local butcher ages prime meat to order the way I like it: 40-45 days.  Served with an almost 1 ¾ lb. 42 day aged-boneless rib.  Started in a pan and butter braised, and then finished in the oven on cast iron.   Aromatically unmistakable an HB.  A very olive nose.  The color is youthful but the wine, while not advanced, is probably fully mature.   Very dark fruits.  One whiff smelled almost Northern Rhone-like to me.  Mushrooms and earthy.  Herbaceous (in a positive way) and smoky notes.   Silky mouthfeel.  The finish is long and the wine is really showing beautifully at this time.  This 1995 will last for many, many more years.

The Surprisingly Good 1993 Ochoa, Navarra Gran Reserva

Bodegas Ochoa was founded in 1845 and is located north-east of Rioja in Navarra.  There is not much out there about the 1993 Ochoa, Navarra Gran Reserva besides a miserable 80 points from Wine Spectator.  I try to avoid reading about wines before I taste them but I honestly was not expecting much from this bottle.  Indeed when I started decanting the wine I was somewhat alarmed by the very tawny color void of all purple pigment.  Perhaps this lack of traditional color explains why it was full of sediment.  In Julian Jeffs’ The Wines of Spain (1999) he writes of their wines, “All of these reds have serious aging potential.”  This apparently was true for the wine was immediately aromatic and full of flavor. The bottle was a treat to drink until the very end.  I kept wondering how a wine with such mature flavors could taste so fresh.   And then I wished I had more.  This wine was purchased at MacArthur Beverages.


1993 Bodegas Ochoa, Navarra Gran Reserva –
Imported by Frontier Wine Imports.  This wine is a blend of 70% Tempranillo and 30% Cabernet Sauvignon which was aged for over two years in a mixture of American and French oak.  Alcohol 13%.  The color was an almost medium tawny and looked rather old.  The nose was aromatic from the start with ripe aromas and wood box.  With air the nose developed an attractive polished wood aroma.  In the mouth the wine was round with a little weight and nice balance between fruit and acidity.  There were mature red fruit flavors and a generally fresh nature to the mature flavors.  With air the flavors took on more red cherry and contracted a bit to become a touch firmer.  The freshness remained with juicy acidity, a musky and minerally finish, lipstick expansion, and a good coating aftertaste.  Nice wine.  *** Now-2019.